Monday, December 13, 2010

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship

Well, ready or not, the weekend was finally here. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race.  I had registered for it not long after running the Boston Marathon in April.  How did I come about choosing this race one may ask?  Well, mainly just due to timing and location. First, because a standard marathon was the furthest I had run at that point, I figured 8 months would be enough time to train for a 50.  Secondly, the location was one that was both easy to get to and the scenery was rated 5 stars on the race website.  I ignored the 5 star rating for "elevation change" and "overall difficulty", just minor details that I could deal with later.
One one hand I was both anxious and excited for what would be the most physical challenge of my life.  On the other hand, I was skeptical about my training, both on hills and overall mileage. I convinced myself that a strong effort and respectable finish would be all I could ask for out of myself.  Just don't embarrass myself out there.  Besides, I was running with the big dogs this time.  From what I had read in the days leading up to the race, this could be considered the strongest field ever assembled for an ultra marathon in both the men's and women's class. 
Unlike a marathon, I had no idea what to expect out of my body, especially considering the elevation changes throughout the course.  I expected this would be a true test of my mental toughness.  In addition to the course itself, I wasn't sure what mother nature would throw at us.  The forecast had a 50% chance of rain all week with temps in the 40's & 50's.  The temperature was not a concern, but the rain was.  It caused a little stress about what I would wear.  Would it drizzle, rain or pour?  Would it be freezing cold with an early morning rain?  Muddy?  How muddy would it be? A lot for one to think about on top of the fact that that it was already a challenge with just the distance and the course. 
Fortunately the race allowed for gear bags on the course.  Four of the eleven stations would serve as gear bag drops.  Each drop site woould actually be hit twice over the course of the race and therefore only two bags actually dropped.  I loaded them up with my preference of hydration (purple G2) and nutrition (Honey Stinger gels, Lenny & Larry's Muscle Brownie's and PowerBar Energy Blasts) as well as changes of shorts, shirts, shoes and socks and an assortment of other items I thought could come in handy. I later realizedI failed to packe the extra clothes, but it was never an issue.  I also had a huge gear bag at the start/finish area that allowed for warm clothes pre and post run.
Race morning, up and out of bed at 2:00 a.m., in the car by 2:45 and a short drive over to the Golden Gate Ferry Terminal to catch a shuttle to the start.  At the start area by 4:00, get all gear bags checked in staying full dressed as long as possible to stay warm and then a last minute trip to the portta potties.  They were situated a little ways up a hill and as I walked up to I couldn't help but think "OMG, this is going to kill me".  I even joked with a fellow racer that I pulled a hamstring climbing the hill up to the bathroom.
Pre-race goofball picture. WTH with the visor?
5:07 a.m. and I'm on the start line.  A quick glance to my left and I realize that the lady that just squeezed her way up towards the front is Kami Semick.  "Kami, hey, I'm Ron's friend from Texas".  It was just crazy. I was just standing there looking at Geoff Roes, Lizzy Hawker, Kami Semick and Dakota Jones in addition to all of the other elites that I didn't recognize. I will add that I saw two or three Anton Krupicka wannabes with the long hair and beards, but he actually pulled out from the race earlier in the week due to injury so I knew he wasn't there.  Then it was 5:08 and we were off and running.

As soon as we headed up the hill and hit a short stretch of pavement I knew this was an elite field.  There were so many runners ahead that just shot out of there.  For the first coupe of miles there wasn't much elevation change so the pace was a little quick, but once we hit the hills and the pace would be all over the place.  About 4 miles in to it my digestive system started talking to me and letting me know we were going to have some issues.  I knew, I just knew it was going to happen. 

Early morning, maybe before first aid station?

The first aid station was at mile 5.8 and I ran through it.  I had my own gels and my G2 in a handheld water bottle so I was good.  Another 3.1 miles and I arrived at Tennessee Valley aid station which was also the first gear bag drop.  At that point I found great relief in a vacant porta potty.  I then found my gear bag, filled up my bottle, grabbed another gel and my sunglasses.  While it was still dark, I was hoping the sun would come up soon and that they would come into use.  So as to save the suspense, they didn't and I later dumped them off at another gear bag drop. 

A little cold singletrack action on the hillside

Somewhere along the way the rain came back.  It wasn't a downpour, but enough to concern me that it might get muddy.  In addition, it kept it cool.  For some reason I had shed the gloves at the first bag drop and was now wishing I had them back.  I always have a problem with my fingers getting cold.

Two more aid stations got me to Bootjack for the 2nd gear bag at mile 18.9.  I pulled in just under 3 hours and 3 minutes.  A bit under 10 minute pace which I was happy with, but I knew I couldn't hold it.  I was already feeling very fatigued and somewhat concerned about the next 32 miles that lie ahead.  I got some help from a very nice lady in changing my shoes.  I had to transfer my timing chip from my MT 101's over to the Brooks Cascadias.  I had made a last minute decision to go with the 101's based on a shuttle conversation with a runner, but I thought I was going to need better traction if it got too muddy.  Loaded up on more G2, grabbed my own Lenny & Jerry's Muscle brownie, a gel and I was off again.  I immediately could feel the extra weight of the much heavier Cascadia's on my feet.  Wow, maybe not a good choice, but I was sticking with it now.  I tried to convince myself that the superior traction of the shoes would come in handy as well as the overall support.  Looking back I don't know if it was a good choice or not, but it was the one I made.
The mud and the shoes I switched to, the Brooks Cascadia 6.
My goal was to try to stay as close to that 10:00 pace as possible now. Six miles per hour, c'mon I could do it right?  Nope, I couldn't.  It took me 1:01 to knock out the next 5 miles.  In that section there was an out and back to McKennan Gulch in which I would see the leaders coming back the other direction while we ran on a single track on a hillside.  As the leaders approached those of us still going out, we would step of the track and get out of the way.  They were moving.  The section was maybe 2 miles long, so about 4 when doubled.  I didn't recognize the leading men, but did recognize Kami as she passed me again when I was at 21.65 miles.  Doing the math in my head  I could tell that she was already about 4 miles ahead of me.  Of course I didn't think I was going to hang with her, but just wanted to get an idea of how great the elites were.  Soon after there was Jenn Shelton and Texas' very own Liza Howard, winner of this year's Leadville 100. 

The turnaround at McKennan Gulch aid station was just shy of mile 24.  It was raining and I was cold and starving.  This was the first station that I stopped at for food.  I had a couple hands full of Ruffles chips, 3 or 4 small round brownies and a qtr of a PB&J and then I was off again.  You'd think the turnaround meant the halfway point, but I knew better.  The runners guide said 51.2 miles so I knew I was still shy of the midway point. 

In the week prior to the race, I had studied the guide, the aid station locations and distances between each, but somehow things started getting a bit fuzzy for me and for much of the race back towards the start I just took what the course gave.  I had totally got lost on where things were such as the hills, aid stations and significant landmarks. 

As it turns out, it was 4.7 miles to the next station and then 3.4 more miles before the course circled back to Bootjack, 31.7 miles in and just under 20 left.  I filled my water bottle, grabbed another muscle brownie and was out of there.  This was in the Muir Woods so many of the upcoming miles would be run under tree cover, up and down several steps, over and under trees, through at least one Redwood, a few bridges and a ladder.

By chance I happened to leave Bootjack with a group of 3 runners.  It consisted of both a male and female 50 mile participant and a male pacer for the female.  I didn't intend to, but ended up following them for several miles through the woods and a couple of aid stations.  We may have even leap frogged each other a few of times, I'm not sure, but it seemed that I would be ahead of the female racer as I approached aid stations and she would be ahead of me by the time we left them.  I didn't feel like I spent more than a couple minutes tops at the stations, but she spent even less.  A very efficient runner.  The male racer that was a friend of the other two eventually left us behind and ended up beating me by about 16 minutes.

There were other racers along this section that seemed to either pull ahead or fall back, not really sure as I lost track of them in the woods.  I just wasn't too concerned about beating anyone, but instead just trying to finish with a decent time.  When the day started, the goal was under 9 hrs.  As it progressed, Mr. Mathematician had some work to do figuring out time left to get 9.5, 10, and then eventually 10.5.  At some point in the race, just trying to determine the pace I needed to get 5 miles in one hour was a challenge.   It may as well have been titled The North Face Endurance and Math Challenge.

Powerwalking behind Larissa on Coyote Ridge leaving Muir Beach
Coming out of Tennessee Valley aid station for the second time I found myself a long distance behind Larissa (the female racer).  Larissa didn't even stop that I noticed, but Rick (her pacer) did as did I.  The two of us left at the same time and we could see that she was way ahead up the hill.  One of the handful of hills that seemed to never end. In addition to Larissa, I could see green jacket guy (who I later found out was a Brazillian in my age group).  I was on his tail much earlier in the day, maybe around before mile 13 when he dropped a lightweight green jacket that was tied around his waist and I picked it up for him.  Look closely and you can see him here from the early stages of the race.  No, look even closer than that, he's midway up the hill.

   Green jacket guy from early in the race, maybe before Muir Beach station at 13.9??? 

In addition now, it was evident that there were several runners ahead of me.  It appeared that we had joined up with the 50K runners as they came out of Tennessee Valley as well. This would be a 1.5 mile incline in which we gained almost 700 feet.  As with all the huge hills in the 2nd half of the race, I chose to power walk this section with a few burst of running.  Keep in mind that my "bursts" of running at this point were no faster than 11:00 pace, while that walking was probably closer to 16:00. Miles 42 & 43 took me a combined 31:46, brutally slow and seriously chewing into my goal time.  The good thing was that even though I was moving slow and power walking, I was gaining ground on green jacket even though he appeared to be running.  I was also passing numerous 50K runners.  While this meant nothing in the standings, it was huge psychologically to me. 

Eventually I passed green jacket guy on a downhill section and never looked over at him.  I also caught back up with Larissa and Rick and decided to hang with them for the company on the way in. Turns out they were from the area and actually did their "Thursday" runs on the course, how nice. That reminds me, I need to send Rick a picture of the pumpjacks I get to see on my daily training runs.  Equally beautiful......if you own them.   The section we were on now was predominantly downhilll and to be honest, this was the most painful section of the entire run.  Each step started with a jar to the knees, up the quads and ended with the lower back and ribs.  How in the world could running downhill hurt so bad?  It reminded me of a conversation on the shuttle early in morning in with prior year runner.  He had discussed the very issue and how he incorrectly assumed the final downhill would be nice.  Mile 48.4 - 50.4 dropped just under 800 feet and it was not easy, although I preferred that over climbing. 

The last mile was pretty flat, most of it on pavement and I found that I had a little left in the tank once the course flattened out.  I brought home the last mile pretty strong and even passed one more 50 miler along the way.  I had no intentions of leaving Larissa and Rick behind in doing so, but I had to pee so bad I wanted to hurry and get it over with.  Had it not been so close to the end I would have just stopped on the side of the road, but green jacket wasn't far back and I wasn't about to give up a position in the standings for that reason. 

I finished in 10:15:40, 79th overall and 12th in my age group, 40-49.  It wasn't 9, 9.5 or even 10, but I was pretty damned thrilled that I had finished.  My biggest concern coming in was that I would fall flat on my face and embarrass myself with a poor showing.  I now had a 50 under my belt and in fact a qualifying time for entry into Western States 100.  What a great experience that was.  Exactly what I was hoping for in that sense.  I learned more about myself and what I capable of doing, but more so it taught me that I have a lot of room for improvement.  To see the elite athletes run the course in such incredible time was both amazing and humbling.  I had no thoughts of it as I sat around at the finish line, but in the days since I have made up my mind that I will go back for 2011 to give it one more shot, goal..........sub 9:00.  And the beauty of it is that my wife Gina has agreed to go with me next year.  How nice it will be to have her at the finish line the niext time around.  After all, I couldn't do any of this without her support.

A few interesting statistics from the race:
               Total distance: 51.24 miles, avg pace 12:01(5mph)
               Elevation gain per Garmin 15,759 ft, descent 15,537 ft
               Fastest mile:  7:32 (mile 5)
               Slowest mile:  21:31 (mile 33)
               Estimated calories burned:  5,702
               Approx days until I get my revenge: 357

Men's podium - Dave Mackey (3rd), Geoff Roes(2nd) and Miguel Heras(1st)

Women's podium - Anna Frost (1st), Lizzy Hawker (2nd) and Kami Semick (3rd)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

If the Shoe Fits........

Well, you know how the saying goes. Let me explain how the race went. The last of 3 60K's in the Capt'n Karl's Endurance Race series took place at Muleshoe Bend Recreation area just off of Lake Travis a few miles west of Austin, TX on Saturday night. I had finished 5th and 3rd respectively in the first two and stood in 2nd place overall by just over 3 minutes. First place overall was out of the question as that runner, Josh Beckham, had a lead of about 77 minutes. The overall placement would be determined based on combined time from all three races.

Going back to the first two races, I had gone out too fast to start and faded quite a bit in each to the point where finishing was certainly in question. I knew I knew I would have to run a pretty smart race if I wanted to keep 2nd place. And if the fact that I knew it wasn't enough, I had my 5yr old daughter giving me advice two weeks out. She had just watched the story of the tortoise and the hare and completely unsolicited, she told me that I needed to run my next race "slow and steady". While I thought it was quite cute, it was the phrase I would repeat several times early in the race while picturing her telling me "remember Dad, sloooow and steaaady" in a drawn out manner.

Unlike the previous two races, I made the 300 mile trip the day of the race for the 7:00 p.m. start. Getting there just past 4:00 gave me plenty of time to set up my "camp" near the start/finish area and relax a bit before the race. While it was still pretty warm outside, about 84, it was about 15-18 degrees cooler than the last start and it appeared that it would drop into the 70's by 11:00. Quite balmy by hill country summer standards.  That was a much welcomed change. Combined with the fact that the Race Director's email said the course was "not all that difficult" and "slightly rolling on a mountain bike trail that is mostly smooth" made me think this would be the sub 6 hour race. I opted to ignore the "still enough rocks and roots to dissuade you from dragging your feet".

Before the race got started I saw the two guys behind me in the standings, but never looked for Josh as he wasn't even a consideration to me. My only hope of finishing #1 overall would be for him to fail miserably and DNF. A quick runners meeting, standard comments on paying attention to signs, glow sticks, watching out for snakes and proper hydration and then we were off and running.

The first lap would include a .84 out and back to get the race to a full 60K. After that, 4 loops of 9.09 miles. Just after the making the turn on the out and back Joe, the Race Director, yelled at me "You're it, Josh didn't make it". D'oh, seriously?  I later found out that his wife had just gave birth to a child so he skipped the race. No pressure, but here was my chance to steal 1st place overall. Because of the way the out and back was designed, I would count that I was in 9th place of the 60K runners. A bunch of 30K runners ahead that only had to do 1/2 of the out and back. I'm assuming it was all of them, about 80. And of course, among the 8 60K runners ahead of me were #'s 2 and 3, Derek and Scott. We had finished 3, 4, 5 respectively at the Falls.

Unlike the last race, I didn't stress about being behind anyone this time. I just reminded myself that this was a 37 mile run and that I didn't matter if I lead 36 miles or 1 mile. All that mattered was where I finished. Slow and steady, slow and steady.  We had all had our struggles in the prior races and I was banking on similar results.

I took my time and didn't look far ahead often. Even when I did, I couldn't see much other than the runners just ahead of me as we ran in some pretty thick wooded areas with a lot of hills and brush. It seemed I could never see much more than 20-25 yards ahead at most, sometimes less. It wasn't long into the race that I caught up with the tail end of the 30K runners. Passing them one at a time was not much of a problem as most of them pulled over when they heard me behind them. Every once in a while I could see that I was passing a 60K runner, but it was difficult to tell even though we were identified by the color of the #'s on our race bibs. Black for 60K, red for 30K.

The loop had 3 aid stations. The fully stocked and manned station at the start/finish, one at 3.00 miles out with water only and then the 3rd at 6.55 miles that would be manned and fully stocked. I had made the decision to carry two Nathan handhelds to avoid frequent stops at the stations. The plan was to stop at the finishline only. If I stopped anywhere esle something went wrong.

It seemed like forever, but eventually the first aid station appeared and while I ran right by, there were a couple of people already stopped and refueling. I felt pretty good and had plenty of liquid. The temperature wasn't bad at all and I could tell early that hydration wouldn't be a problem at all. That said, I did pop and S Cap just before the start and planned on taking one about every hour.

Between the 1st and 3nd aid station there was some extremely gnarly rock sections that included some large buried jagged rocks, roots and a lot of trees. The course overall was pretty technical with a lot of switchbacks and tight sections between trees and low hanging branches.  This particular section was almost impossible to run while we still had daylight available. I immediately thought this was going to be treacherous in the dark. And not only that, but without the worn dirt trail, it was difficult to tell where the trail actually was. That meant looking down at foot placement and then looking around for "confidence markers" which was the neon colored tape hanging from the trees every so often. In loops 2-4 it would be a little easier because you could see the glow sticks that had been randomly placed on the ground.  At that point it was a matter of going from glow stick to glow stick.

Once past the difficult section of rock, the course seemed to open up a bit with some of that "mostly smooth trail". Due to the rain from the night before there was a little mud, but not bad. The second aid station came and went and again as I ran by, there were a couple of runners fueling. I still had plenty of Gatorade in my bottles and didn't even hesitate to keep going. Another 2.5 miles and I would have one loop knocked out. I wondered how the guys up front were doing.

The loop ended with a very short section that ran into the start/finish area on the same trail as those coming back out. By the time I got to that section it was already dark and I my headlamp was on. It was really a cool sight as it was dark and then just as you came ove a hill you could see the camp area with all of the lights for the aid station. As I was coming in a few runners passed me going the other direction. Not sure why, but I never even looked at them. I think I was trying to stick to my plan of slow and steady and not worry about who was ahead of me.

A quick run across the timing matts, around the cone and right to the Gatorade jugs. A split of 1:29:38 for the first 9.93 miles (1:24:12 for the 9.09 actual loop). Unbeknownst to me, I was about 7 minutes behind the leader at this point, Derek. I asked for Heed, but they didn't have it mixed yet. It would have to be Gatorade again. No problem, a quick refill with ice and Gatorade by the volunteers while I squeezed a gel into my mouth and then I was on my way out. A very efficient and short stop.

Loop 2 was pretty uneventful other than passing Scott and another runner at the first aid station. I had been tailing them pretty much for the 3 miles since leaving the start/finish area where they had gone out just before me. I was not right on them. but not far behind at all. Again, the 2 bottle system worked as they both stopped and I ran right by without so much as looking in their direction.

Loop 2 took me 1:32:08, about 8 minutes slower than the first one. While I tried to remind myself of staying slow and steady, I was a bit concerned that I wasn't feeling quite as good as I wished I had and I wasn't seeing any 60K runners that I knew of out there. As I pulled in to the start/finish area for he 2nd time, I unscrewed the caps on my bottles and dumped out what was in them coming into the chute. I crossed the matts and handed off the bottles again to be re-filled. I grabbed a protein brownie from my gear bag, bottles from the volunteers, Heed this time, and I was back out onto the trail, but not before asking how far I was behind Derek. About 10 minutes was the response. Turns out, it was actually 11, but close enough. Not what I wanted to hear, but still, slow and steady and he would come back to me at some point right?

Actually I was starting to doubt the "slow and steady" approach, but honestly don't know if I could have run much faster without totally draining myself. At this point I was 19.02 miles into it and had just over 18 to go. Still a long way and a lot of time to catch up. I told myself to continue to run my race. Be disciplined, stick to the plan.

Not far into the 3rd loop I got my first wake-up call, I hit the ground. I was trying to split a tree and failed to pick my feet up high enough in doing so. I hit the ground with a pretty hard thud and then there I was with the familiar feeling. Soaking with sweat and now rolled in dirt, not to mention the dirt on my water bottles as well as in my mouth. Nice! It was as if I took a leap while running and someone grabbed my feet out from under me.  I looked at my Garmin at that point to see that it happened at 19.96 miles. No idea why I even cared, but apparently it was important enough to look. Just about a mile and a quarter later I would get to look again because there was another crash. This time I completely crushed one of my water bottles at 21.15 miles. This was getting ridiculous I thought. Now, I was really irritated, but not surprised. I had clipped several rocks up to that point and had almost fell several times.  I managed to stay upright for the rest of the third loop and I came in at 1:48:36, slow.

Coming in from the 3rd loop I knew I had some ground to make up, just how much was the question.  I felt good enough to consider an attack for the last 9 miles and was considering either one or no water bottle for the last loop.  I had an iPod available and knew that I would pick that up for sure.  With majority of 30K runners off of the course, it would be pretty thin out there and plus I wanted something to give me a little life.  I was also going to slam a Red Bull, but totally forgot it once I got into the aid station.

I was told that I was in 3rd place and about 17 minutes out of 1st place, maybe 12 behind 2nd.  Looking back at the splits, it was actually 14:28 behind the leader. I headed out with one water bottle and a huge challenge ahead of me, but feeling somewhat optimistic that with a decent run and maybe some luck I could gain enough ground to make it interesting. 

Some of the early parts of the loop had some decent downhill sections in the wooded area and I was moving at a pretty good clip at times.  The music pumping in my ears in the dark of night was pretty cool and the rush I was getting by flying recklessly downhill and in between trees had my adrenaline pumping.  I kept hearing Brad's comments to me at the aid station "leave it all out on the course".  Slow and steady had been discarded.  At the same time I knew there was no way I could hold that pace for 9 miles.  I was just going to give it hell and see what happened.

With the faster pace came risk and I remember thinking if I fell it was not going to feel good. Well, it wasn't exactly Nostradamus, but it wasn't long before I clipped a rock and sent down pretty hard.  The jolt to the body was rough, but not injuries.  I was up and back at it in a matter of seconds with a relatively decent pace. 

As I progressed through the loop I could see headlamps moving ahead of me.  While I was pretty certain it wasn't either of the two 60K runners, I thought to myself  "you never know" and continued to chase them down.  Each time I caught one of the runners a disappointing feeling would come over me as I realized I was lapping a runner and not actually catching 1st or 2nd place.  That was okay, I was still running and each time I saw a light I had a burst of energy.  It was like when you're out training on the road and you see another runner and your pace seems to pick up a bit.  Not necessarily intentionally, but it just happens. 

Somewhere in the first half of the loop I would go down for the last time.  I had caught a glimpse of a runner and here came that energy again. I was gaining ground through a fairly technical section in the trees I just before I approached her that moment of whiplash and then thud to the ground.  It was another lapped runner and I felt quite stupid and I was at her heels.  She turned to see what had just happened and as I lay there looking at the ground I said "I'm fine, go ahead" and waved at her to keep moving.  She was being courteous to check on me and I was just embarrassed at disheartened at that point.   I popped back up and tried to get back after it, but I think at that point I knew it wasn't to be.  I had needed to run a perfect 4th loop and I had two things working against me.  One, I couldn't stay on my feet and two, I was running about 1-2 minutes per mile slower than I needed.  My focus switched from predator to survival about then.  I decided to finish respectably and take 3rd place like a man.  First for the night and overall were lost earlier in the race when I chose "too damn slow and steady" for my strategy.

As I approached the last mile of the course I could feel a little life back in me and I picked up the pace for the last time.  Soon the hill just before the finish line was under me and then the lights of the tents were visible.  Such a great view in the middle of the night.

Crossing the finish matt was once again the unceremonious moment.  I was handed an assortment of items by one of the volunteers that turned out to be a medal, two framed pictures, one for the night's placement and one for the series overall as well as a Team Traverse belt buckle for completing all 3 60k's.  6:33:01 was my time and as it turned out, I finished 2nd place for the night, not 3rd as I had been told and 2nd place overall.

I finished 8:30 out of 1st place overall with a total time of 19:20:01, but I couldn't help but be somewhat disappointed with myself.  With Josh out that night I had the opportunity to take 1st and I let it get away.  However, Derek ran an fantastic race.  As he had previously, he went out fast and he finished strong.  Either way, 1st place wasn't meant to be mine for this series. Second place seems to be more my speed and with that being said, I was happy with the Shoe and the whole series, it seems to fit me just fine.  Just seven short weeks earlier I had never run a trail race and now I've have 3 60k's under my belt with some respectable finishes.  Gives me a lot to look forward as I pursue my goals in the ultra world.  And by the way, I'm not abandoning the slow and steady approach as I did feel much better at the end and never thought DNF was a consideration.  I just need to work on making my "slow" as a little faster.

Thanks for your support and for stopping by to read this mad rambling.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the Falls 60K

Race 2 of the 3 race series was this past weekend, August 14th. Another 7:00 p.m. start would hopefully bring cooler temperatures this time around. Well, wishful thinking at least, but no such luck. Those of us doing the 60K would do two loops of the 30K.

After a quick runners meeting at 6:45 to hear about the course, aid stations and snake sightings, we all shuffled our way to the starting matt just in enough time to get started at 7:00. I looked around for familiar faces, but being that this was only my 2nd trail race, I only knew my 2 buddies from Midland and Derek, the guy that beat me out for 4th in the first 60K. Soon we were off and running. My main concern and focus for this race was pacing and I had told myself for 3 weeks that a slow start would be the key. I wanted to hit the the first lap at or just below 3 hrs. In effort to do so, I let a group go off without me and tried not to worry about where I was. Just run my race, just run my race. I said it more than once to myself.

Less than a couple of miles into the race we hit a very technical section of the course along the river that included several branches, drop offs in the rocks and gaps in the rocks. I immediately thought this would prove challenging the next time around in the dark.

Before long, we were off of the river and running along a fenceline. The fenceline was straight and appeared to go forever. I could see several runners ahead of me and some of them were way ahead of me. That stressed me and it was a mistake to even look at them. Over the course of the next 4 miles I caught and passed all but 6 runners, three of them 30Ker's. That was not part of the gameplan and I think it cost me eventually. Before long I caught up with the 6th runner, Scott and he was running the 60K. After introducing ourselves, chatting for a while, and running a couple of miles together, I decided to move on since I was feeling pretty good. I think that was somewhere around mile 9.

One decision I had made that I was glad I had was to carry two Nathan Quickdraw handhelds, 22ozs each. They both had HEED in them to start. By doing this, I was able to skip the first aid station (the Fence) at mile 5 and the 2nd (the Pipe)at mile 8.5. A four mile loop would bring me back to the 2nd aid station at mile 12.72. When I finally got there I was on empty and had to fill both bottles with ice and HEED. Getting my own drink was no problem, but the guy manning the station wouldn't let you get your own ice. He had to pour it from a pitcher. I had no problem with that, but I think someone failed to mention to him that it was a race as he took his sweet time. I later discussed this with one of my buddies, Joe, and we got a kick out of it. When Joe came in to the station at mile 8.5 he picked up the bottle of Coke and started to pour himself some, but the same volunteer held out his cup to the runner and asked Joe if HE would pour him some Coke. WTH? He was a bit surprised, but did and moved on.

Back to the race. After filling up, I headed out of the Pipe aid station to finish the first loop, about 6 more miles. It was dark at this point and I had actually turned on the headlamp just before entering the Pipe aid station. A couple miles later I would find myself rolling along the trail. Not really sure what happened other than just a loss of focus and without warning I went down. Fortunately, it was just dirt and loose rocks resulting in a layer of dirt all over my shoulder and back and a few small scrapes. Nothing serious. But it was just after getting back to my feet that I noticed a headlamp on not far behind me. It was Scott, I think, and he seemed to be making ground on me. In this section of the course there were several switchbacks and so when I changed directions I could somewhat look back in attempt to gauge where the runner was. It wasn't always possible due to the trees and brush, but I could see the light every once in a while. Just keep moving was my thought, just keep moving.

Before long I could see the lights from the finish/start area and the feeling of being halfway done was nice. I completed the first loop in 2:42:12, about 18 minutes faster than what I wanted. Not good. I got my bottles filled, one ice water and one HEED, grabbed my iPod and headed out of the station, time for loop 2 feeling pretty decent still.

This was the first time I had ever ran a race with music, but decided to experiment after reading reports of some other ultra runners. Right off the bat I thought it was a good decision. It was a mixed bag of upbeat music that I won't reveal. The river section came up pretty quickly and that was tough. A lot of power walking there due to the difficulty of the rocks, branches and darkness. Before long it was the fenceline again and that seemed to go forever and ever and ever. I was pretty hot and had consumed one bottle of HEED while pretty much draining the second bottle on my head and back along the way in effort to keep cool. For that reason, I had to stop at the Fence aid station and refill. That also took forever because I couldn't get my lids unscrewed and then I had trouble loading the ice. I think I was just plain worn out at that point.

On my way out of the station, I passed the 4th place runner coming towards me (this was a short out-and-back) and estimated that he was about .15 miles back. Oh no, get moving. Over the course of the next few miles all sorts of thoughts went through my head including "4th ain't so bad, not even 5th". I was hurting and the pace of the first loop was catching up with me. I was continuing to pour water on my head to revive myself and the Heed was also going down very quickly. In addition, I had made the switch from Carboom watermelon gels to Cliff Bar chocolate brownie flavored energy bars for the 2nd loop. I still can't decide if that's a good choice or not. I had 3 bars on me when I started the 2nd loop. One in each handheld and one in a spi-belt. I had pre-cut and wrapped them into 1/3's for ease of eating on the run. I'm not sure that helped much either because unwrapping the cellophane was a PITA!

Over the course of the next few miles I pretty much consumed all my HEED and drained my water on my head. The Pipe aid station would be a nice sight, or at least I thought. There it was at the top of a hill and I couldn't have been more relieved. As I pulled in I heard the words "I don't have any liquids for you". What? No water, no ice, no Coke??? It wasn't a cruel joke, it was reality. I guess due to the heat runners had taken in more than expected and all they could do there was wait for more to be trucked in. In the meantime, I needed to get moving and deal with it. I had about a swig or two in each bottle so now my thoughts switched to conserving it for when I most needed it. The 4 mile loop wouldn't be easy with hydration, it was going to be a challenge without. I estimate that I made it about 2 more miles before I felt like I was ready to just quit. I was somewhere around mile 29 when walk/runwalk/run was the name of the game. anything uphill was definitely walked and it could also be walked if flat or downhill. It was all at my mind's discretion.

I tried to consume more of my Cliff bars and washed them down with what liquid I had left. In my head all I could think was that they had surely re-stocked the aid station while running the loop. In the midst of my walk I found myself looking back quite often for a headlight, but to my surprise hadn't seen one. I tried convincing myself that those behind me were surely encountering the same misery as I was. They better be any way. We all paid the same price for admission to this thing and we'd better get the same experience.

Coming into the Pipe station was a climb up a pretty decent hill. I got to within about 40 feet and just came to a complete stop, a wobble, a few steps back and forth and then managed to proceed in. Yes!!! They had water, ice and some HammerEndurolytes. While some really helpful young guy filled up my waterbottles I struggle to open a packet of Endurolytes. I eventually got it opened, downed a couple, grabbed my bottles and walked off. I asked the same elderly man that had been there earlier if I had 6 miles to go. I was pretty sure, but in my altered state of mine, I think I wanted some assurance. All I got back was "Huh"? Never mind.

Off I went and feeling pretty confident that I could finish even if that meant walking the rest of the way in, but that wasn't the plan. I pretty much ran everything that wasn't uphill or a steep downhill. Getting some fluids back into the system put some life back in me.

As I wound my way through the final 6 miles I came across about 8-9 30K'ers still on the course. I offered words of support as I passed by and they all seemed about as enthusiastic at that point as I was. Eventually I could see the lights of the finish area off in the distance and I made my way in for an uneventful 3rd place finish at 6:13:xx. After downing a couple of chocolate Muscle Milk drinks and a Gatorade, I celebrated with some of other 30K and 60K runners with a couple of cold beers. The 4th (Derek) and 5th (Scott) place 60K guys finished just behind me by a few minutes so I had the opportunity to visit with them for a while. Really nice guys as are pretty much everyone I've met at these races so far.

Wow, what an experience that was. While I felt like I ran the first loop pretty solid, I still went out too fast and it showed in my 2nd loop split, 3:30:59, a whopping 48:59 slower than the first loop. Not the results I was looking for entering this race. While I think my hydration issue on the Pipe loop created some of my problem, it was mainly due to poor pacing again. Someday I'm going to figure it out. In the meantime I was very satisfied to avoid the DNF and the 3rd place finish. Three weeks (actually two now) until the final race in the series. I think I'll focus on getting in some quality runs versus overall mileage. And again, I just can't wait to get back out there.

Thanks for stopping in and your support. Take care!

Monday, July 26, 2010

the Lake 60K

Finally, it was here. The day I had been anxiously awaiting for weeks. How would it go? What would it be like? Would I be up for the challenge? Was I ready? So many questions and it wouldn't be long before I found out.

I packed my suburban up Thursday night so that I would be ready to head out just after lunch on Friday. While going out of town to race is always exciting, it's always with mixed emotions as my family usually doesn't go with me and I'm always sad to leave them behind, even if only for a couple of days. This weekend would be no different. I had a late lunch with Gina and then hit the road for my 270 mile drive.

The drive itself was a bit nostalgic as it had me on the same road our family made for many trips to the in-laws house when they used to live on Lake LBJ. That home had been sold about 3 years back and we hadn't been to that area since. Wow, I sure do miss that place.

Pulled in to Inks Lake State Park about 7:30 and already I was getting anxious as I could see a small crowd at the park check-in station. Luckily I had made reservations and wasn't too concerned about a camp site. Within minutes I had my permit and was on my way to site #325.

Even though I have a smaller 2-man tent, I also brought a much larger tent as I figured I wouldn't want to be cramped in a small space for two nights. Good decision. Other than setting up the tent by myself as the people next to me sat there unphased as I battled the wind and my tent rainfly. I finally said F it and put it away. No need as it wasn't going to rain anyway. That ended up making for a nice night when I went to sleep. the moon and stars were quite visible through the top screen of the tent. Really nice.

Before I knew it was 6:45 a.m. and I was awake. Well, might as well get up. I headed over to the bathrooms showered and decided I would go hang out in the race start/aid station area before the 10K and maybe get a bit of a feel for the race as well as introduce myself to Joe and Brad, the race directors. On my way there, I came across another runner named Curtis and we ended up walking to the start together. Immediately I tried to size up the competition and it didn't take long to figure out that he had done several 50k's as well as a 50 miler through the Tejas Trails group. He was registered for the 60k as well.

The 10k was small, just under 30 runners, and the start was rather informal and simple. Just what I had expected from what I had been told. Brad and Joe took turns warning the runners of various hazards on the course including snakes and then it was 3, 2, 1 and they were off. The handful of us not racing the 10k decided to get comfortable and take a seat. Joe thought it would be just under an hour before the first runner would come in so I decided to take a seat and wait for the leaders to come in. They were running the same exact loop that the 60k racers would be running 6 times later that night.

The goal that I had concocted up in my head for this race was 6 hours. Not sure why especially when I knew that last year's winner was 6:00:20. Actually, maybe that was why, but honestly I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know what the course would offer up. Joe's email to the runners indicated that it was pretty flat, but that it was pretty rough with rocks and cactus and he suggested leg protection such as calf sleeves. Well either people are pretty hard headed or they don't read their email because I only spotted a couple of runners with calf sleeves on for the 10k.

While sitting there pretty relaxed and shooting the bull about who knows what, we hear "runners" and there they are. They don't come into sight until about 20 yards away and and before we knew it 3 of them rounded the corner and came down the chute. Runners 1, 2 and 3 all came in within 3 seconds and the winning time was 53:15. These dudes looked like solid runners and all of a sudden I was starting to re-think my goal. Okay, maybe not 6hrs after all? The second place guy was in need of medical attention as he had a couple of cuts on his head and on his knees. Apparently he was the leader before overshooting a turn and crashing hard. I just sat there looking at this guy bleeding, breathing hard and just dripping as if he had stepped out of a pool. "Shit, what was I in for tonight" was all I could think. This might be more than I bargained for?

As it turned out, I had been standing by the time clock when the first 3 came in and the guys seemed short handed so I asked if I could help. Someone handed me the list of runners and asked if I would keep time. Doh! The other runner that I met on the way in ended up "spotting" runners numbers as they came down the chute and I would mark their time. Unlike chip timing to be used in the night race, this was a manually timed race, old school. This went on for just over an hour as the runners made their way across the finishline. At some point I overheard Brad tell one of the female runners "check with that guy in the blue shirt, he's the official timer". Uh yeah, that was me, the official timer, nice. The last runner came in just under 2 hours.

Well, that was fun. Time to get back to the camp, make breakfast and then take a nap if possible. Before the nap I was actually able to get the rainfly on. The sun was pretty brutal so this would help a little with the heat, but I still woke up lying on sweat soaked sheets that I had placed over my sleeping bag. After waking up I was somewhat unsure what to do with myself. It was still quite some time before the race so I walked down to the lake and sat by the water for a bit, but I was really concerned about being out in the sun and being drained of any energy. I decided to go ahead and get in an early meal which was oatmeal, raisins and almonds. Not really what I would want on hot day at the lake for lunch, but I thought it would be good for me. In addition, I had made a pretty concious effort to hydrate with PowerZero the last couple of days. They were going down at record pace. I was done eating and cleaning up by 3:00 so now only 4 more hours.

What now? I decided to make a quick trip into town to load up the ice chest with ice so that I didn't have to worry about anything going bad or floating around in a huge chest of water. By the time I got back to the park I could see that it was buzzing with runners and it was time to start getting excited, as if I wasn't already.

I decided to get my gear bag together and head down to the start to drop it off. I brought two bags from previous marathons and a backpack. I put as much as I could in the backpack, but brought the gear check bags just in case I need something with my name on it. I had no idea of the protocol for this as they did not provide specific gear bags. As I walked that way and other runners were also doing the same I could see I was under prepared. They were toting boxes, ice chests, all sorts of stuff with everything they owned in them. I went ahead and got checked in, claimed my spot by a tree with my backpack and headed back to grab a few other things just in case. A folding chair, a small ice chest and a couple small bags of "stuff" later and I was ready. Again I noticed the lack of calf sleeves and gaiters. I was surprised due to Joe's email. I felt rather goofy in my calf sleeves, gaiters and little bitty Brooks Elite ID shorts, but at this point I didn't want to mess with taking any of it off. And I was trying to convince myself that the sleeves would prove to be valuable over the 37.2 miles that I was about to encounter.

Well, after all of the waiting, I hear Joe call out that the race is about to start in 12 minutes. People start meandering over to the road and as I do the same I realize I hadn't turned on my Garmin. I also wanted to clear some history. Well, as luck would have it, it took FOREVER to locate a satellite on my 305. In fact it went right down to the wire before it did and I was a wreck. I had situated myself up front behind the first row of guys. There were two women next to me that I took were pretty fast. They were both Team Traverse members and had tons of trail racing experience. I was feeling rather inferior due to my lack of experience, but still had some confidence that I could do well. Of course as usual, I was sizing up the competition again and just hoping I could finish in a respectable placing. After pretty much the same spill from the morning's 10K, it was the same unceremonious start and we were off. That moment of "here we go" as we headed up the road.

Loop 1 - miles 0 - 6.2

Within 50 yards we were off the road and up into the trails. We were told is was going to be pretty much single track with a bit of service road coming up and then back to single track for the duration of the loop. Just 6 of them, not too bad.

Not sure what I was thinking (actually I'm not sure I was), but there was a lead group of about 8 or 9 runners that took off. Since I was behind them I couldn't tell who was a 30k runner and who was a 60k'er by their bibs. I just decided to go with them. While I don't recall looking at my Garmin the first loop, I knew we were moving along pretty quick. I was right on the tail of one guy with my foot literally hitting the ground where his foot was just as he moved it. There was someone behind me doing the same. I just focused on his feet until eventually he passed the girl in front on him and then I was focusing on her shoes. I'll have to say I was surprised by the amount and size of rocks on the trail. A lot of loose rocks on the downhill section that made footing tough at times. I just knew there would be an ankle injury by the time I was done.

At some point before the end of the first loop the girl in front of me pulled over and for what I assumed was an unscheduled bathroom break, that sucks. Not long after that I could see a couple of guys coming up the hill towards me, oh, 3 guys actually. Then I realized they were the leaders and had just gone through the start/finish area. Within minutes I was on the road and into the start area myself. I quickly dropped off my first handheld, grabbed my second one along with my headlamp and flashlight and was headed out. At that point I looked at my Garmin and could see that my split must have been 51:xx for the first 10k. About 6-8 minutes faster than what I wanted. Damn, what a mistake. As irritated as I was I tried to convince myself to slow it down. Let those lead guys go.

Loop 2 - miles 6.2-12.4

Starting the second loop I was right on the heels of another runner. We chatted back and forth a bit and I got the impression he was yet another seasoned veteran of the trails. When he asked about my trail racing experience I once again stated "this is my first" and then admitted that I had gone out too fast and was now feeling the effects. I told him that I was going to back off the pace a little. He told me to run my own race and not to try to race the other people out there. While I felt like I already knew that, I certainly opted to ignore it, at least up until that point. Before long he was gone and out of sight.

Somewhere in the 2nd loop I started getting a little concerned that a DNF would be a possibility. How in the world could I feel so bad already and not even be done with my second lap? I'm not sure if it was before or after those thoughts entered my head, but the first time I looked at my Garmin to see total distance was at 8.9 miles. What??? That's it? Geez! Just keep moving and listen for footsteps in case I need to move over for someone passing me. One possibility was the girl that was right behind me earlier and had pulled over. I had seen her coming in on my way out on the short out-and-back section early in the lap. I was sure it would just be a matter of time and I would get passed by a chick.

As it stood, I trudged my way around for lap two and came across the matt in just over 1:48:xx. About 56 minutes for that split. Felt slow, but still a bit too fast. Unbeknown st to myself, I hit "stop" on my Garmin at that point. More on that later. In the aid station I refilled on Gatorade, grabbed my second handheld and decided to go with two for the 3rd lap. I had to ration my liquid towards the end of lap 2. I figured that this way I could forgo stopping at the aid station that was about 2.6 miles out in attempt to save time. I grabbed a CarBoom gel, downed a S cap and headed back out. I felt pretty good about the fact that I wasn't wasting much time at the aid stations.

Loop 3 - miles 12.4 - 18.6

Not a whole lot that I can remember from this loop other than I'm starting to feel some serious chaffing inside the thigh of my left leg. I know for a fact that I am no longer concerned with my pace or mileage as I never once looked at my Garmin in that loop to realize that it was still "stopped", stuck on 1:48:xx.

I do notice on this loop that I'm starting to lap quite a few people. There were plenty in loop 2, but they were coming pretty quickly now. I was really amazed that the runners did a great job of pulling over and letting me by without me ever having to saying a word. I was surprised they could hear me or see my lights because all I could hear was myself hurting. I was sure to shout out a "thank you" and "keep it up" to every runner I passed and asked anyone stopped and seated if they were okay. It appeared to me that the course and heat were taking its toll. The carnage was evident throughout this loop.

Coming in to the finish area after the third loop I was feeling confident that I was somewhere up in the top 6-7, but not exactly sure. I had lost track of the leaders as they came out. I later realized that it was a couple of them where 30k'ers and at least one of the 60k'ers had dropped.

I decided to go with the 2 handhelds one more time. A great volunteer asked what I needed and filled up my bottles with Gatorade and water. She then asked if there was anything else I needed. A dry pair of shorts would have been nice, but I asked for something for the chaffing. She found and handed me a tube of Vaseline. I figured it would be best if she just squeezed some onto my hand rather than apply it directly to my leg. I'm sure she appreciated that as well. I totally loaded up the inside of my legs, but at this point it was too late. There was some severe burning going on down there on the left leg. Aaaggghh, nice!

Loop 4 - miles 18.6 - 24.8

As I headed out of the camp and up the road to the trail I was right behind another runner that had caught up with me. We exchanged comments and I proceeded to follow him into the trails. As soon as we got into the trails I peeled open a Snickers Marathon Energy bar and tried to wolf it down. I had no desire to eat, but knew that I needed to get some calories down or I'd end up paying for it later. Pulling into the aid station this time I had my first exchange with Joyce Prusaitis, the RD's wife. I was hurting at this point, felt a bit disoriented and wobbly. She had a look of concern on her face that concerned me. She quickly filled a ice and placed it on the back of my neck while instructing me to hold it there. She filled me back up with my drink of choice which had switched to a watered down Heed mix. I actually liked it quite well. I looked at Joyce and asked her when was it a good time to start drinking the coke. I don't think she knew how to respond to such a stupid question. She politely asked if I felt like I needed a change and I replied, "yeah, let's try something different" so I down a couple of small cups of coke, which I had not drank in 0ver 20 years, and I was off again. I left along with the same guy and we continued in that order for maybe the next mile or so until I decided to pass him up and try to get moving. Oh, and it was early in this 4th loop that I finally looked at my Garmin and freaked because it was still stopped. All I could do was start it and keep going right. Pace didn't matter and they would let me know how far I had gone. I really didn't need it at this point.

About 4 miles into this loop I came across the runner that had told me to run my own race. He was pulled over and hurting. I stopped to check on him and he indicated that his feet were swelling and that he was waiting for the salt tabs to kick in. He had screwed up on his electrolyte replacement. All I could do was offer for him to run with me and he did. After about a mile he had fallen back and I had somehow found a little life in my legs. I was tempted to leave him, but instead stopped and went back to him and asked again if he was okay. He opted again to try to run in with me and eventually we made it back to the finish area. I never saw him again, but was later told he took a seat and I don't see from the results that he finished.

Loop 5 - miles 24.8 - 31

This time I decided to drop a handheld and run with just one. The temps didn't seem quite so bad and I didn't drink as much on the last loop. I figured one handheld could get me from one aid station to the next. This time I grabbed a Cliff Chocolate Brownie bar, got refilled with Heed and headed back out for #5. And there he was, the same guy that I started loop 4 with. It was de ja vu all over again. Okay, only 12 miles I thought. I can do this. It was probably somewhere early in loop 5 that I thought I could finish. This time we stuck together for the entire loop and taking turns leading. It was great to have him there to keep me going and he later admitted the same to me.

While I had no idea what pace we were keeping by the mile or the loop, this guy, Derek, did. He was giving me the splits for the 10k, told me what his other splits were and it was also killing him that he couldn't remember his 1st 10k split. I didn't care. I just wanted to finish and I didn't want anyone passing me. We came through the 5th loop at about 1:07....I think? Load up on Heed again, I downed another S cap which I had been doing at the turn each time and I grabbed a Hammer gel off of the table. I was too lazy to walk about 20 feet over to my bag an get another CarBoom. At that point I figured to hell with it, a gel is a gel.

Loop 6 - miles 31- 37.2

One more loop, woohoo! I finally had the confidence that I was going to finish. Just cruise this loop and I could claim my first ultra. As in the previous loop, I was noticing that the other runners were few and far between. We'd come across a few scattered runners here and there, but I was really surprised at how few people we were passing now. As I look back I see that 76 of the 30k runners had finished by the time we started the 6th loop and 40 of the 86 starters for the 60k had DNF'd. That made sense. That meant there was only about 48-50 runners spread out over the 6.2 miles left out there on the course at about 12:30 a.m..

Derek and I seemed to get into a pretty good grove and I felt reasonably good all things considered. We stopped at the aid station, drank some coke, topped off the Heed and headed back out for the final 4.6 miles. We had been trying to figure out where we were in the standing this last loop and we eventually convinced ourselves that we were 4 & 5. We both commented that we didn't care which order we finished, we just didn't want to get passed. There were awards for the top 5 finishers Male & Female. Then as if this guys was on cue, some runner yells out to us "good job, you're 5th & 6th". Huh? Oh well, whatever. It is what it is at this point.

Within the last couple of miles I thought to myself that we had both been pretty lucky since neither of us had fallen. Several close calls, but neither of us had hit the gound yet. Just as soon as I was about to say it out loud, I stopped myself because I thought it would surely be a jinx. As we moved along I felt like he was running stronger and I had convinced myself to stay with him. We may have both been thinking "5th & 6th"? I wasn't sure if we were setting ourselves up for a sprint at the end or what, but I wanted to be sure I was right there with him just in case he decided to take off. As we crossed a highway and made our way back onto the trail for the very last time we tried to decide how far we had left. I thought it was about a mile, but who knows. He agreed. I was just sure we were getting closer although with each turn or hill I kept thinking "oh yeah, I forgot about this section".

And then it happened, about a half mile from the finish I must have lost focus and my left foot clipped a rise in the dirt and the next thing I knew I was hitting the dirt pretty hard. It was a bit of a shock, but I gathered myself, picked up my visor, headlamp and flashlight and got back to my feet and moving. In what I thought was the utmost in sportsmanship, Derek had stopped to make sure I was okay and I was. At that point I decided the "race" was over and that he would be the 4th place finsiher. No idea if I could have caught him or not had I not fallen, but it didn't matter. He could have left me in the dust and didn't. There was no way I was going to make him work any harder. A few minutes later we came across the finish 4th and 5th and just as I expected it. No hoopla, no cheering fans, no one handing you drinks. Just satisfaction of knowing I had done it was all I needed. The RD gave us both a "good job" and directed one of the volunteers to get us the 4th and 5th place awards. Turns out she was Melanie Fryar, the early women's leader that dropped due to a foot injury. She's a little bitty thing with pigtails and legs that could outrun a deer. And just a few minutes behind us came the first place female, another solid runner, the same one that had pulled over on the first lap for a bathroom break. Nice job!

Now it was time to eat away and drink some of that cold Heineken that I had sitting on ice. The only problems was I had no desire to eat, at least not what was on hand and the beer didn't seem quite as inviting as I thought it would. I did pop the cap off of one and sat down for a visit with Derek and then with Joyce Pursaitis about the run, but that was it. I gathered all my belongings and slowly shuffled my way up the hill to my tent, tossed stuff everywhere and went to sleep. A shower would have been nice, but I barely felt like taking my shoes off. It would have to wait until the morning.

What a great experience! I loved every bit of that race so much, even when I was hurting and unsure if I could finish. That's what I was looking for in a race. A challenge and the uncertainty of not only my finishing time, but the ability to cross the finish line. The desire to test myself and see what I was capable of had been satisfied for the time being. The course itself was pretty tough, just as advertised by Joe and Brad. A lot of rocks, buried as well as loose on the track and plenty of cactus and tree limbs to manuver around. They did say the it was pretty flat, but I call BS on that one and I'm sure some of the other runners would agree. While there were no substantial climbs or descents, it seemed that if you weren't going up, you were gong down. As mentioned before, the DNF's were high. Only 53% of the starters finished. The overall winner was a 5:43:xx and 2nd place was 5:58:xx. Third place finished at 6:24:xx. Derek and I finshed at 6:33:46 and :49 respectively. The first place woman finished right after me at 6:37:xx and then not another finisher until 7:21:xx.

There are 2 more 60k's in the series in the same area so it is now to time reload and get ready. I can hardly wait to get back out there and give it another shot. When they are behind me I think I'll have a better feel of my chances my December 50 miler. As for right now I'm feeling a little better about my chances than I was before the weekend.

Sorry this was so long, but it was an ultra after all. Thanks for your interest and support!
Take care!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Evolution of a Runner

Wow, has it already been 2 1/2 months since my last post? Let's see if we can't get you up to speed rather quickly here on what's been happening.

After completing Boston, I had a quick trip to the west coast and ran Big Sur Marathon with 3 friends that also ran Boston. Ron, Amy, James and I all ran together for the full 26.2 miles. Nothing fast, but absolutely scenic. Incredible views for most of the course. And I got my monies worth out of the entry fee, a whole 1:01 longer on the course than the previous Monday.

While both races were awesome and special in their own way, they were taxing on me. Both physically and mentally. The training, the injury and stress of not knowing if I would fully heal before Boston or if I would even be able to run the B2BS Challenge. Upon returning home I decided to take two weeks off, start back slowly and then focus on the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10. This would be were I would break the 2:45 barrier. Stay healthy and my chances were pretty decent I thought.

Well, here's where things take a turn. I started going back to some websites that I had visited before my first Boston qualifier in '09. Ultra marathons, trail races, remote races. Before I know it I am becoming delusional with visions of 50 and 100 mile races in my future. What an accomplishment, what an experience? People all over the country are doing it every weekend. I think this might be the time to jump in. I had previously told my wife that I would run a 100 mile race before I was 45 after all so I'd better get started.

Well, skipping a lot of stuff between then and now, I have made a huge change in my training and goals. All the thoughts of sub 17:00 5ks, 2:45 marathon, sub 1:00 10 miler have left the building. They may never come back. I have got enough of a taste of trail running in the last couple of months to know that this is my new pursuit. What is it? What has caused this sudden turn about? Evolution is the thought that keeps coming to me.

In a really nice 20 mile run tonight with a new running buddy, Joe, the only guy I know in this area that has run multiple trail ultras, I was explaining my lack of desire to pursue road racing right now, but instead going long on the trails. His response was that it was my evolution as a runner. There you have it.

To back up just a bit, I had a a few actual trail runs at a state park near Dallas, but they had all been alone. A mutual friend hooked me up with Joe and we meet last week for a run. 25 miles in sloppy, wet and very muddy alleys throughout old Midland. Sounds odd, but he suggested it and said it would be a good simulation run as far as the surface that I might be racing on. It was actually pretty cool.

Tonight we met up at 7:00 and I had suggested we run a few miles over to a golf course and then try to get the bulk of our run in on a golf course. Hopefully it would be empty. Well, we got there after about 3 miles and there was not a soul there. After further review, the course was flooded from all of the recent rain so it must have been closed. Awesome! We had the run of the place and just headed up and down holes, mainly in the rough and over as many of the mounds as we could hit. Because of the week long rain, there was one section of the course that was actually under water. As we approached it I questioned whether we wanted to go around or go through it. Joe's response, as I have quickly figured he responds to all such questions, "whatever, it doesn't matter". We just hit it. Before I knew it we were waist deep and then quickly to the other side. To me that was a great training experience because sooner or later it's going to happen in a race and it's not going to be an issue that I stress over. By the end of the run, we had crossed that same section 4 times going one way or the other. Soaking wet shorts and shoes, but not bad at all. running gear has evolved so much that the shoes drained well and the shorts were not even an issue. Wet socks aren't great, but nothing I couldn't live with.

Tonight's run was also my first with a hydration pack, the CamelBak Octane XCT. Not really necessary in town when doing loops, but I wanted to try it out now rather than find out on a training run in the mountains that I didn't like it. I have been carrying two Nathan QuickDraw handheld bottles and they are awesome. The CamelBak was much better than I expected. Held 70ozs of a water/Gatorade mix as well as pockets for energy gels and a bar. It was a little work to get the liquid out of the spout, but other than that no complaints. I don't have any intentions of using it in a race, but for a training run it worked nice. If I ever get some remote runs as I plan, I can start off carrying 110ozs of fluids when I carry two handheld bottle.

That gets us to the present day. I've run from 62 - 72 miles a week for the last 4 weeks and averaged about 55 over the past 24 with the exception of my 2 weeks off. A 20 mile or longer run in each of the last 5 weeks and I'm now two weeks away from my first ultra marathon. A 60k trail run at Inks Lake State Park. In addition to the race being about 11 miles longer than any of my previous races, it also starts at 7:00 p.m., about 12 hours later than most marathons. That means that I will be running about 23-25 miles in the dark by headlamp and hopefully finish sometime between 1:00 - 2:00 a.m.. hey, what's one more factor to throw in? Might as well get 'em all in now.

For the night running, I have been getting in quite a few runs after sunset to get some experience with the headlamp. The Petzl Tikka XP 2 is my current headlamp of choice. It shines up to about 60 meters, but one thing that I've figured out is that when running at night, you don't need to see more than about 10-20 feet ahead of you, especially on trails. If you start looking ahead to far you'll end up on your face, day or night.

So what do I expect from the Lakes as this race is called? No idea other than I want to finish on two feet. Well, finish respectably that is. This is the first of 3 races in a series so whatever I do wrong I will get the opportunity to rectify 3 weeks later or 3 weeks after that. I'm really looking forward to this next phase in my running life. And while I have decided to forgo Chicago, I still plan on doing Boston next April and every April after that. It just means that I will have to re qualify there each year. Yikes!

Take care!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 Boston Marathon Race Report

As I begin typing this report I’m sitting in the Midland International Airport waiting for my flight to California. Where I will be when I finish I have no idea. Ironically, it symbolizes my running life. When I ran my first marathon just over 4 years ago, Boston was nothing more than a big race for really fast people. Today, it is the most awesome sporting event that I will ever be a part of and it has given me a second chance at athletic accomplishments that I never fulfilled as a youth.

This weekend was incredible to say the least. I had been so looking forward to meeting the whole 3:20 group and it was fantastic. Two special shout-outs to Stevi and Tina for their work this weekend. Chris & Ron, you guys have great wives. To the rest of you, thanks again for the getting to Boston. Joe, sorry we didn’t get to meet, but congrats on your race.

The group of 3:20 Sunday at Ron's.......

On to the race and I’ll try to keep it short (coming back to edit because I blew that). In the weeks leading up to the race I sort of fished around for someone to team up with that was shooting for a sub 2:50, but found no takers. I knew by the time I got to Boston that if it was going to happen I was going to be on my own. No big deal, but running about 14 miles with one particular runner in Tucson was huge as we fed off of each other’s energy at certain points. I was hoping to gain the same advantage for Boston.

Nick and Ron spent Sunday night at the house we rented so that we could drive right to Boston Commons and catch the buses. Kevin Fox joined us at the house that morning for the short ride in. Once at Athlete’s Village, we laid claim to our space, dropped a couple of tarps and started getting our game faces on. Hitting the portta-pottties, getting clothing/bib situated with shoes, body-glide, hydrating, writing splits on arms, whatever it is we do to get ready. The time in Athlete’s Village flew by way too fast. What I anticipated as a long wait was over almost as soon as it started. When Fox stood up and said his “good-byes” to head to the corrals it hit me that it was gametime. I tried to quickly gather my stuff and head to the gear check buses. It was still a little cold for me so I kept on a nice running pullover that was not meant to be a “throw away”, oops. Comfort at that point was what I needed so I went with the decision of keeping it on and to toss it as I reached the corrals. Dropped of the bag and headed towards up the street. Actually jogged that way, as I knew I needed to make one last important pit stop to take care of business. Talk about stress. The line moved so slowly and the clock was ticking. By the time I got into one of the portta-potties, the jets were flying by and time was running out. I darted out of the portta-potty like Superman out of a phone booth and started weaving my way at a pretty decent run pace up the hill ‘til I finally made my way to corral 2.

Hanging with the crew from "3:20".....Nick, Paul, Ron & me.

Athlete's Village final preparation writing splits on my arm........

Once in the corral, relief set in as the National Anthem was just getting started. I stripped off my arm warmers and gloves and handed them to some kid hanging on the rail next to me. He was about 7 or 8 and I’m sure that’s just what he wanted, arm warmers from some wannabe. All of a sudden we were off. Per my finishline photo it appears I crossed the starting mat 1:02 behind the elites.

5k split – 20:06

My goal was to not go out too fast. Did anyone hear that this weekend or was I possibly on to something? Based on my Maclin spreadsheet, I hit both mile 1 & 2 10 seconds too fast. Not what I planned, but I got my self to settle in after that and I was fairly close to pace. I had run the right side of the road in the early miles in ’09 and liked that option again for passing if needed. I went with the same strategy this year, passing people on the very far edge of the road.

10k split – 20:05

Mile 4 was a bit fast at 6:14 and I could already see that the distance between my Garmin miles and the markers was widening. I knew this would be an issue, just not sure how much at this point. It was somewhere in the 2nd 5k that I noticed Minnie Mouse pass me. What? Minnie Mouse and she was a he?

15K – 19:56

I don’t remember anything significant about this section of the course other than the fact that Minnie continued to stay ahead of me. This being the flattest part of the course I noted to myself that I should be at a pretty even pace and wanted to stay as close as possible to my splits so as to save everything for the last 5 miles. My goal all along has been to drop the hammer at Boston College. Keep in mind that I’m not getting the 5k splits, but the miles instead. The body is feeling decent and no signs of the hip acting up yet. My concern is proper hydration and gel usage. I was trying to get an even mix of Gatorade and water while skipping about every 3rd water station. Took my first gel somewhere between mile 6-7.

20k – 20:06

Another solid 5k. Not far from Wellesly and feeling decent still, but maybe a bit concerned that I still had a long way to go and I wasn’t too confident that I could carry this pace all the way in, especially not in Newton. Somewhere in the 10-11 mile area I believe I finally passed Minnie Mouse for the last time. I had told my daughter Marisa in each of my last two marathons that I beat Superman. I didn’t want to have to tell her I got beat my Minnie, whew! Ran past the girls of Wellesly and scooted over to the left side of the centerline on the road. I think I high-fived enough my first year to last a while and didn’t want to expend any energy doing it again this year.

Half split – 1:24:35

My Maclin half split was 1:25:00; Garmin was 1:24:36. Just the perfect amount of time ahead of pace. Not really much I remember from this area other than I was running along side two guys for quite some time with one of them being named Chad. His name was being screamed out constantly. I told myself that the name was going on the singlet next year. Turns out the two guys were Chad Silker and Blake Whitney.

25k split – 20:06

Yet another even split 5k, but then it fell apart. It was around mile 16 that I looked at my Garmin and thought to myself “10 more miles, no way, I can just quit here for a while”. Welcome to Newton young old man. These hills have eyes and they can spot the weak.

30K split – 20:54
35K split – 20:47

From miles 17-21 I lost 1:16 to my average final pace. I knew it, I didn’t do much uphill work and I paid for it. I tried to latch on with a guy midway through the hills, but he couldn’t run downhill, his quads were dead, and I didn’t want to push it uphill as my calves were a bit tight. I told him we would stick together and then bring it home from Boston College, but he said no, he didn’t have it left to go hard. Heartbreak was longer this year I think? I don’t remember seeing anyone pass me, but my time for mile 21 was 6:54, about 13 seconds slower than desired pace. That was pretty much the theme of each of those 5 miles.

Heartbreak Hill......

40k split – 19:36

There it was, BC, the destination I had been holding back for for 21 miles. Drop it now and go get that 2:49 I thought to myself. Miles 22-26 splits were as follows: 6:17, 6:13, 6:18, 6:14, 6:20. I think more than anything about the race, I am most proud of this effort I gave to finish hard. 31:12 for that 5 mile stretch and I was passing runners left and right like they were standing still. The calculations in my head were almost impossible at this point as I could barely add 2 + 2. I saw Stevi at her post an it was like a shot to the arm. I felt revived and a second wind. Mile 23 was the fastest for the whole race at 6:13. Unfortunately by the time I hit the mile 24 marker I started to feel like I was barely hanging on. Really getting light headed at that point. I decided to forego any hydration in the final few miles with the hopes of saving every second that I could. This was a familiar feeling as I had pushed myself in Dallas and Tucson to the same point where I didn’t know if I would hit the finishline or the pavement first, but that was the plan. Besides, if I crashed here, there were plenty of people around to help.

In addition to Heartbreak be longer, somehow the good people of the BAA managed to lengthen Commonwealth? I was desperately looking for the turn onto Hereford Street, but I hadn’t even hit the underpass yet. To show you how the mind works, I momentarily thought that maybe it wasn’t part of the course this year? But there it was and then the turn onto Hereford. The family was to be camped out right on the corner of Boylston and Hereford directly across the street and sure enough as I came up the hill I could see my little bro waving his arm. Then I saw the rest of them. Some fist pumping and a surge of speed took me around the corner onto Boylston and headed down the homestretch.

Turning the corner onto Boylston.....

As soon as the energy hit me it was gone and my body almost came to a screeching halt. About 50-100 yards past the gang I thought my body was going to fail me. The faint and lightheaded feeling was back and I thought I might have just blown the whole race right there. I seriously had visions of people crawling down Boylston and now that possibility was upon me. I shook it off and gave one last surge with everything I had until about 200 meters away I looked at the Garmin and could see I was 12 seconds away from 2:50:00. I lost my 2:49 was the thought. Wasn’t going to happen this year. At that point I was almost relieved as much as disappointed in knowing that the pressure was off.

I hit the finishline at 2:50:22 per the Garmin and I didn’t know whether to cry with joy or disappointment. Some members of the medical team were trying to give me some assistance, but I just wanted a few moments to myself along a rail to clear my head. Turns out there was no crying, but relief instead. The hip had held up without issue, I was just short of my goal and I saw my family on the course. Best of all, they saw me. The last part meant a lot to me as this was the first time the kids had seen me in a marathon and the first time I had seen any of my family while running a big race. Another afterthought was that I will get my Corral 1 seeding that I was looking for n Tucson. Very happy about that. 2:50:20 official time and 546th overall, 46th in the 40-44 age group out of 2,146 that started.

Meeting up with family after the finish......

In analyzing my data in the following days, it turns out that my miscalculation was in using the auto lap function. The extra .17 miles cost me just over a minute of time. I’m not saying I could have run any faster, but I just might have tried to pick up a few extra seconds in the first half of the race where it was relatively flat. When I run Chicago I will allow for some extra distance as well as turn off the auto lap function.

Overall summary of the race, well it was great. Nothing went wrong, the weather was all that I could have hoped for and the body held up just fine. I wish I could have completed the training cycle without the injury issue, but that’s part of the game so no excuses there. Hanging out with the crew in Athlete’s Village was just awesome and has me looking forward to our next big race together.

I’d like to say thank you to my family for who I could not do this without. My wife Gina is so accepting of this whole craziness I put our family through to pursue my dreams. Thank you so much G! To my children for enduring the stories of running, training, crazy diet and more running. I want to thank my brother Billy for being there to witness my passion for the sport. It meant more than I can I can say for him to be there. I hope you're back next year. I think he undersatnds now why I do all the things I do for this one day. I'd also like to thank my physical therapist John Schlaffer who worked on me for 4 weeks told me he would have me ready for race day. I wasn't convinced as late as my Saturday morning run along the Charles River, but on Monday when it counted, my hip was never an issue. To the group from “3:20” that made it to Boston, thanks for making the experience complete. I get so much motivation from you each and every day and you’re a great group. Looking forward to seeing you guys in Chicago! And lastly, to all of those that supported my cause of Midland Children’s Rehab Center, thank you so much! I had a thank you card waiting for me when I got home from the center signed by the staff and children and it almost brought tears to my eyes, seriously. Thanks for all the interest and support.

Take care,